Environics Communications Inc: Recognising Leadership


Environics Communications is a firm on a roll. After being honoured by its industry peers in January, it recently placed first among 75 organizations named to this year’s prestigious Best Workplaces list. Bruce MacLellan talks about managing the firm over its remarkable 15-year history. While key financial metrics are collected, the firm’s "talented and motivated" employees are recognised as the lynchpin of its operational achievements. They are carefully selected and then rewarded with a generous loyalty program that includes travel vouchers at key service milestones, day care, and employee benefits that include a healthy dose of prevention.

businesshealth spoke to Bruce MacLellan, President & CEO.

It had been a good few weeks for Environics Communications, a mid-sized Toronto-based agency with offices in Montreal and Washington, DC. In mid-April, the communications strategy firm placed first among 75 organizations that made the 2010 Great Place to Work Institute’s Canadian Best Workplaces list. Then on May 6, they received an Award of Distinction as the Large Agency of the Year from the Toronto Chapter of the prestigious International Association of Business Communicators. Just a few months earlier, that Chapter had been named International Chapter of the Year among a group of 100, so the bar is set pretty high.

Measuring Success

All companies need to know whether they’re on track to meet their goals and objectives. Bruce MacLellan, President and CEO, says the firm measures a number of traditional success factors. Revenue growth is critical, and Bruce notes this has happened every year since the firm was established in 1994…even during the recession. Particularly over the last five years, they have carefully scrutinized expenses.

Another metric is client retention rate; about three-quarters of revenue is from clients with at least seven years’ standing. Over the same ten-year span, they’ve also enjoyed a 75% success rate winning competitive bids for new clients. A disciplined approach to targeting serves them well. The firm sticks to its knitting, and carefully avoids selling services it cannot do really well.

Beyond the numbers though, Bruce believes the real starting point is talented and motivated people, and ensuring they enjoy their time at work. If so, then they’ll be motivated, effective, and do a better job.

As the firm has grown over the last fifteen years, it’s no surprise that two-way communication has been essential. Environics has a company newsletter, and Bruce reports using more group meetings, and more technology to communicate breaking news. There’s a significant effort made to break the isolation of his corner office by walking around more often to maintain personal contact. With more management staff on board, they too share this philosophy and have become important communicators.

The Benefits

Environics has grown to about 80 employees, and has some wonderful and unique employee perquisites, such as daycare and significant work flexibility particularly for families, as well as travel and environmental incentives.

Some of the highlights are having a guaranteed daycare spot, which was the outcome of a surge of babies born to employees in their Toronto office, a city where child care services are scarce.

Loyalty bonuses are also an important and highly visible tactic, and kick in at 5, 8, 10, and 15 year employment milestones. "People love these", says Bruce. No wonder!

Years' Service
Value ($)
A trip anywhere in the world, plus a extra week vacation.
A trip in Canada.
A gift for the person's home.
A trip anywhere.


The approach to benefits is similar. Companies who tell their staff how valuable they are and then skimp on safety, or communication, or benefit programs will sabotage their own performance. The benefit package is also tailored to their generally young workforce – the average age is 34. For example, Environics covers some preventative care, such as nutrition counselling, and employees could take home anti-viral medication during the H1N1 pandemic. They also have a very aggressive program to help people quit smoking; the firm approaches smokers directly, but discreetly. There is a financial award for those who are smoke-free after six months.

One important need with such visible generosity is to manage expectations. While they want to be seen as a great employer, "no" is still not an uncommon word. However, this is done respectfully "and with great clarity." Bruce believes employees are more likely to honour and respect decisions that are well explained.

Being Among the Best

It’s clear that Environics’ deliberately invests in its workplace, and considers its participation in the 2010 Best Workplaces list very strategically. "We find their survey to be an incredibly valuable tool, Bruce says. "We’ve used the results over the last four competitions to guide the firm towards improvement." It was also important to choose a program where employees are given a voice in deciding the winners. The concise, time-tested questionnaire and two-thirds weighting on employee input mean winners must walk the talk.

Bruce left a parting comment for businesshealth readers: "A great workplace is smart for business, and an investment in your bottom line. Many employers already see it for that; certainly employees do as well." Clearly, taking care of business means taking care of people too.

Environics staff support the Canadian Olympic team
during "Bring Your Woolies to Work Week."

Communicating to Connect

As a communication firm, Environics obviously recognizes the value of effective communication. Bruce MacLellan, President and CEO, admits with a grin that it probably gave them a little edge in winning the best of the Best Workplaces rankings. But communication is a big word that can mean many things. Bruce says: "If someone thinks they are communicating enough they’re usually wrong. If they’re communicating well, they can certainly improve. The earlier this is recognized, the better that person will do."
Environics works with its clients to test the quality and clarity of their messages. Being well prepared is key: know who you are addressing, what they value, and how they absorb information. Communicators, whether in print or in-person, need to consider their audience profile. For example, multicultural audiences require particular attention to language. Younger people typically use different media, and filter messages through different value sets. Clarity can be hamstrung by industry jargon, acronyms, and complex language. While speaking, carefully observe audience behaviours, such as cough levels, fidgeting, and eye contact. Afterward, Bruce suggests that speakers sit down with people to test their understanding…and your effectiveness.
Even in 2009, Environics sponsored
a company retreat to Florida.


Categories: Bottom Line